Thursday, October 11, 2012


      Knitting is NOT an act of frugality. When I was growing up, before the days of cheap imported clothing, you sewed if you wanted great clothes at affordable prices. Ottawa, where I lived, boasted a couple of great fabric stores, where you could pick up high quality materials and Vogue patterns, and transform them and yourself. There was more time (it was the era of the mostly one-income couple), and less money. Now, most of the high-end fabric stores have disappeared from all but the largest cities. Knitting was at one time a similarly frugal activity. There were a few classic wools available, spun in Canada, the cost was relatively low, and if you had the skill you could make yourself or your loved one a Vogue-worthy sweater at a fraction of the cost of the same purchased at Holt's.
       Times have changed. In spite of technology, there's less time. It takes two to bring in the same income in real terms that one person made a generation ago, a lot of wool is imported, and the cost of knitting an adult size sweater with high quality wool is definitely not low. Knitting is no longer a necessity, as it was in the days when elderly female family members cranked out mitts and hats for cold morning walks to school; it is recreation, stress-reliever, and solace. It can also be pretty darn expensive.
       So what's a knitter to do to keep down the cost? My recommendation is to have another look at so-called "classic" wools. I say "another", because many knitters by-pass these yarns on their way to the super-soft, super-wash, super-expensive luxury yarns so cleverly marketed with alluring patterns featuring models walking on windy beaches or sauntering through tall grass as if they hadn't a care in the world. Marketing wool is about fantasy, just like marketing anything else. What I mean by "classic" wools, is simple, plain untreated 100% wool. Familiar brands might include Cascade 220 (not superwash), Galway and Galway Highland Heathers, Ella Rae Classic, Sandnesgarn's Babyull, and even the unfairly maligned and admittedly slightly scratchy Briggs and Little wools. A few years ago, I would have included Patons Classic Wool in this list, but ever since Patons was sold, the quality of its wools has been disappointing. These are some of the classics available to me; there may be others where you live. The point is that these are workhorse yarns. Apart from the Babyull, these aren't wools you would want to wear next to your skin, and that's OK. Wear them over a comfy cotton T as I do. A garment made from them and carefully looked after will last for decades. With the exception of Cascade 220, these wools are not usually displayed in tempting ways in yarn stores. They just sit on the shelf, looking a little boring next to their lustrous, fuzzy, or tweedy luxury cousins. What they demand is skill and imagination. They require your hands and your brain to do the work.


I hope these photos illustrate what can be achieved at relatively low cost (under $15 in total in the case of the Briggs and Little shawl, and the yarn comes in 44!!! colours). The problem? Many LYS's no longer carry these yarns, or if they do, they carry a very limited range of colours. As the owner of my LYS explained, the profits are low, as is the demand. Increasingly, I find myself having to make a special order from the shop, or ordering directly from the mill or supplier. The latter does my local shop no good, I am well aware, but what's a knitter to do? If you love real wool as I do, I hope you will ask for these products at your local shops. If we create demand, won't supply follow? Encourage your LYS owner to display models made from these yarns. We all know how seeing a finished garment can create the desire to cast on to start the same project--today, please, and in the same colour! (Don't you hate how shops are ALWAYS out of the colour used in the display model?  That's fodder for another rant.)
       I'm not suggesting that you shouldn't enjoy your luxury kid mohair, or extra-fine alpaca, or superwash sock yarn. There's a place in my wardrobe and my budget for these. Let's just not forget what wonderful knitting feats can be achieved and enjoyed with the good old classics.

Boat slips emptying out as the fall weather turns chilly.
Now, my rant done, I'm going shopping on this chilly morning, dressed in some nice warm wool, pure and simple.